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In memory of the transition from Ronald Reagan (actor) to Vaclav Havel (playwright)
The last decades of the 20th century is a time when there is much talk of new paradigms, quantum leaps, new eras, social innovations and breakthroughs of many kinds. It is also a time of many challenges. There are questions as to whether the creative innovations we envisage will be adequate to these challenges.
One of the difficulties of these interesting times is the vast outpouring of information, insightful and otherwise. Even the most creative people with many helping hands have large piles of documents and periodicals in their offices labelled 'To Read' --where many remain unread. In an era of 'desktop-publishing' the 'desktop-reader' does not accomplish for us what its name implies. It is a mark of eminence for a person to be able to claim lack of time to read all the relevant documents in his or her field. This has serious implications for those with policy-making responsibilities and for the insightfulness of the innovations to which they subscribe. Our society seems to be decreasingly capable of channelling its best insights to the places where decisions are taken and interrelating them in such a way as to empower those capable of acting in terms of new paradigms -- although upbeat reporting might lead us to believe otherwise.
It is possible to write lengthy papers about these issues. But such papers are now part of the problem -- as noted above. Information specialists delight in describing what computers will be able to do for us to resolve such difficulties with new gadgets and fancy software. But they focus on fact shuffling -- at a time when many 'facts' have become questionable. The question of how creative, integrative insights emerge, are comprehended and rendered appealing to a wider audience is not addressed. How do we collectively sense and grasp a fragile new gestalt that is an emerging paradigm in embryonic form ?
What follows is an exercise in imagining how the creative imagination might be used some time in the future, possibly 500 years in the future -- unfettered and unconstrained by the obvious difficulties arising from our present priorities and understanding. The focus is on the contribution of the arts to more appropriate forms of policy-making and to the design of more appropriate forms of social and conceptual structure.
One stimulus for this exercise has been the poverty of imagination associated with fictional and dramatic scenarios of how executive councils function in the distant future -- as reflected in science fiction films and books. Even when entities gather from 'the 100 galaxies', thousands of years hence, their encounter (even through 'holographic projections') still seems to be modelled on the United Nations Security Council or its unfortunate imitations. This organizational archetype is no challenge to our imagination, especially when other styles might be more appropriate. The degree of innovation in such policy councils since classical Greek or Romantimes is laughable compared to that in any technology. High tech Pentagon-style 'war rooms' and corporate 'situation rooms' do not empower participants to interweave value-laden views that differ and cross-pollinate in realms beyond the quantifiable. It is sad indeed to see this same archetype impoverishing the gatherings of spiritual leaders of different faiths.
A second stimulus was the failure of artists to nourish our imaginations with better insights into the technicalities of governing our world -- and specifically the failure of the poet Robert Graves in endeavouring to describe a country ruled by poets (in 'Seven Days in New Crete') and of the author Doris Lessing in her, otherwise remarkable, 'Canopus' series.
«The concern in this exercise is not with new forms of information technology, nor with new kinds of business graphics 'for the decision-maker', nor with the communication of words. The focus is also not on the design of conference rooms and the associated communication technology, nor is it on group dynamics and the manner in which such meetings might then be facilitated. The group processes and interpersonal dynamics of that time, and their relationship to the personal growth of participants are not the concern.
The focus is on meaningful insight, its communication and its comprehension -- and especially when participants hold quite incompatible views. The concern is with the embodiment of new patterns of meaning -- whatever media are used to carry those meanings.
Although the preoccupation is with how more appropriate forms of policy will emerge at that time, the theme is the contribution of the arts to that process. What might be the interface between the arts and the most creative aspects of policy-making as a 'high art' in its own right ? And let it quickly be emphasized that the issue to be explored here is not whether symphony concerts should be held 'on the occasion' of any such assembly, or whether the walls should be monopolized by the mural of some distinguished artist.
In pursuing this theme it is assumed that by that time it may be possible to distinguish more effectively and creatively between insights and their expression and between personal concerns and those of the collective. Put bluntly the challenge seems to lie in making policies more seductive and enthralling to the individual, on the one hand, and in finding ways to permit the arts to be more an evolving expression of collective insight rather than a series of isolated works associated with the personalities (and idiosynracies) of their individual creators. Our tragedy at this time is that the longer-term policies to move us beyond the crises of our times, and the processes by which they are formulated, are inherently boring to the vast majority of the population. But the creative expressions to which we are all attracted, whatever the form (music, poster art, TV drama, etc), do not offer us a means of articulating the frameworks for collective action -- however well they may express our aspirations. Live Aid can raise consciousness, enthusiasm and money, but as a process it cannot articulate and ensure its appropriate use.
What seems to be called for is a form of marriage between Beauty and the Beast, in which both need to compromise in ways quite foreign to their natures. The Beast needs to be more sensitive to the harmonies through which its force could be more appropriatelyexpressed and Beauty needs to be less narcissistic in order to respond to the earthly priorities of the collective and the way work can be done collectively.
In that far and distant time a gathering of the wise may best be imagined as blending the characteristics of policy councils as we now know them with those of an art workshop, a poetry reading, a classical music concert, a theatre, a folk song-fest and a dance, together with other dimensions we would have difficulty recognizing -- and might find awe-inspiring, if not personally quite threatening. It is difficult to imagine how these seemingly distinct forms of activity blend in this way, but that is because we have difficulty in understanding how the same meaning can be taken up, articulated and developed through different forms. We see this most clearly today in music, where different instruments develop the same musical theme, responding to each other's contribution. In that future setting policy-related themes are developed across artistic forms, much as happens in the relation between song and music, or in relation to a dramatic setting as in opera.
But it is less the form and appearance of the occasion which is the concern, for to explore those would keep us trapped in their meanings for us at this time. And it is obvious that the arts will have evolved in ways we can clearly not suspect. At this point it suffices to note the presence of a spectrum of arts. Of much greater relevance is the manner in which they open up and develop themes essential to the policy process. For lack of a better word, 'meaning' will be used to refer to the emotion-mind-intuitive 'stuff' with which the gathering is working and on which its attention is focussed. What are they trying to do with it and what opposing and complementary forces are brought to bear upon it ?
Those attending the gathering each bring to it their own contributions. These may be quite distinct, whether compatible with others or not. The participants are there because the meanings they bring are those which others wish them to articulate. The process of the gathering allows these meanings to play off against each other. Through what conceptual or other frameworks do participants (and external observers) comprehend these movements of meanings ? This is what we can endeavour to explore.
Before engaging in that exploration, it may be useful to clarify the relation between meaning and policy. Put briefly, policy is that which the collective concludes that it is most meaningful to undertake. Not all meaning is directed towards action. Some may articulate the context for action (or inaction). Some levels of policy may indeed be more concerned with maintaining a context within which other policies may be pursued. It may be argued that the highest and most appropriate form of governance would be that which ensured the generation and circulation of meaning within a society, whilst intervening minimally. (***** ?).
«Participants at the gathering therefore make use of different artistic vehicles at different times to introduce new meanings and to sustain the movement of meaning as a whole. We need not be too concerned about how they do this is practice. Clearly extensive use might be made of electronic devices (or their successors) to run video or audio sequences extracted from a library of the world's cultural heritage. Perhaps participants might call upon artistic 'staff'support to endeavour to articulate a theme for which no cultural referents were known. The artist might use some visual or other sequences from the library, manipulating them in the light of his or her own insight (and in response to feedback from the participant) -- much as is done by computer graphics enthusiasts, by computer-enhanced music synthesizers, and by experts in special film effects. Individual participants might choose to use a poetic form, music or song, depending on their skills, in order to supplement any statements in prose form. Clearly the future will hold many possibilities of this kind -- but that is not the point.
What we would have difficulty grasping in following this process would be the connection between one 'intervention' and the next if the sequence moved through different artistic forms. We can begin to understand when we think of our response to the normal musical accompaniment to the drama evolving in a film. But in that time instead of simply reinforcing the meaning, the music may also carry the meaning to a new level of insight. Any words which then followed might be considered by us as a non sequitur -- we would have missed the link carried meaningfully by the music. We are more used to this process when a lecturer introduces slides and other graphics to make points which cannot be effectively made in verbal form.
Such graphics seldom, if ever, appear in the proceedings of policy bodies. But how could we grasp what was being articulated when the gathering shifted from a univocal to a polyphonic mode, where the 'voices' might take visual as well as audio form ? Again we can begin to understand when we think of how 'voices' interplay in a choir or in symphonic music. There is a logic to the relationships --a harmonic logic -- to which we respond both instinctively and intuitively. There is a 'rightness' to the harmonic integration so achieved. In our meetings today, people speaking simultaneously are seen as disorderly and various procedures are used to inhibit or prevent it. To the extent that such interventions represent the 'voices' of distinct factions, we are deprived of the richness of any polyphonic integration -- one 'voice' is expected to drown out all the others (as in majority voting), or all are expected to 'speak with the same voice' (as in consensus procedures). Where there are many speakers who can only speak in succession, it now takes much experience to be able to follow the emerging pattern and to integrate the threads of the discussion at a higher level of real significance to participants. And effective integration of any current debate tends in our era to be more tokenistic -- its meaning lies mainly in its value for public relations, whatever the policy implications.
What could we understand from the arts today that would help us to understand how they in the future could work collectively in this way ?
«One key to understanding how such gatherings work is their preoccupation with a well recognized concern of anyone in the arts, namely 'finding the appropriate medium'. The emphasis is on the insights to be expressed. The challenge is to find one or more vehicles through which to express any such insight. The dilemma is that many of the most complex and valued insights often cannot be adequately expressed through a single medium or even in a single moment of time. The insight can then only be carried by an interplay of forms over a period of time. The concern therefore shifts to the 'design', 'orchestration' or 'choreography' of that interplay.
But of what relevance are these concerns to the articulation of policy ? A major handicap for policy-makers of our day is that their insights must invariably take their final expression as words in prose form. Much has been written about the turgidity of that prose, especially in its extreme legal form. The prose is usually structured into a nested hierarchy of 'points' -- which emerge from policy meetings governed by agendas of similar form. It is difficult to imagine a less creative way of expressing insights, however carefully the document is 'crafted'. Its great merit lies in the fact that each point in principle corresponds to a course of action for which some person, group or institution may be made responsible. Unfortunately this leads to the creation of institutions which mirror the structural poverty of the policy document. And, although there is much benefit in the stability of static structures like agendas, policy-documents and organization charts, they are almost totally inappropriate to the ambiguous, fluid, cyclic or evolving conditions, so characteristic of a real world full of 'surprises' -- and such forms have proven to be incredibly difficult to change in response to the suprises.
The crises of our times, and of those to come, forced future generations to embody the temporal dimension into their design of conceptual, policy and institutional structures. The dangers of embalming such structures as monuments to the insights of a particular moment -- and then allowing subsequent actions to be governed by the self-serving priesthoods which accumulated around them -- became only too obvious. As will be seen, incorporating the temporal dimension involves more than producing a 'Five Year Plan' which is totally insensitive to insights emerging either after its adoption or as feedback from the phases of its implementation.
But the only way that they could take this major design step, comprehend the complexity of the outcome, and (above all) engage the interest, participation and understanding of the population as a whole, was through the use of artistic disciplines. Indeed integrating what had seemed so totally irrelevant to the policy-makers of our times was seen as an essential healing process for the collective ('two cultures') schizophrenia which had engendered the contradictions at the root of so many of our problems. This healing demanded as much radical rethinking of policy-making as it did of the social role of artistic expression.
Let us now look at some of the disciplines and insights from the arts and see how they were woven by our descendants into the high art of policy-making. We must of course remember that from our perspective the reality of that integration would appear quite magically incomprehensible to us -- all we can do is note certain threads and principles which were significant to that magic.
Part of our difficulty in comprehending their achievement is that this healing involved more than a simplistic putting together of policy and artistic skills. The integration was based on a paradoxical (and uncomfortable) level of insight (with associated skills) in order to transcend the easy duality by which we now find it convenient to separate them (and many other things). The beginnings of this insight are only now becoming familiar to us in the discussions of the relationship between physics and consciousness and with related insights from the East.
One of the mysteries to that future era was our reluctance, in our constantly declared search for social 'harmony', to draw upon the articulation of harmony in music. Our excuse, in the midst offactional squabbles over concrete urgent problems, is that no serious person could imagine that music had anything to offer other than some pleasant distraction before or after the reception on the occasion of some such gathering. And yet music could be called the science of harmony. An immense amount of effort has been devoted over the past centuries to exploring the nature of harmony in music.
Where we had vainly sought for the keys to controlling our environment through systems science and cybernetics, they married such explorations to the science of harmony as articulated in music. In our era much has been written about the relationship of music and time -- music as time made audible. We have seen the efforts of systems scientists and 'world modellers' to represent complex systems dynamics using equations, flow charts and sophisticated graphics -- denying comprehension by most of us. Our descendants projected such dynamics into musical relationships which could be played. The 'business graphics' of that time had musical variants. People could hear the various harmonies which provided integration to any policy represented, and they could hear the dissonances which challenged that harmony -- whether as a stimulus to social growth or as a potential crisis. The only equivalent we have to this is the ability of any motor mechanic to listen to an engine as a means of diagnosing its state of health. One great advantage is that everyone could listen to such musical representations, irrespective of the sophistication with which they understood it. The major integrating features were obvious to all, however little they understood the detailed harmonic organization.
Such representations of systems insights were not just public relations devices. By listening to the musical representation it became possible to identify and discuss features which could be changed and improved, in the light of musical insights, into richer or more challenging patterns of harmony. The musical perspective highlighted features which made a policy boring -- namely 'monotonous' to their ears -- and thus uninspiring to those in whose interest it was being elaborated. We can get some understanding of this process from the way jazz and pop groups collectively develop a piece of music until it sounds right.
Space limitations here preclude detailed explorations of the policy significance that they were able to attach to all the many attributes of musical organization. But, for example, where today international development agencies have a range of programmatic approaches on which they rely, in that era such approaches would be recognizable by what are effectively melodic signatures. Such signatures became a way of communicating complex programmatic proposals. And whilst there were many 'old favourites', there was greater sensitivity to those which had been superceded, and to the emergence of new melodies which addressed issues in a more interesting way. This clarified the relationship between the fashionable programmatic melodies of the moment and those of more enduring quality.
Of special interest is their use of insights from the temporal organization of music as it impacted on the programme and budgetary cycles which are the skeletal structure of any concrete action programme. A major concern in administering an organization is to ensure financial discipline. They resolved this problem by using a musical discipline of far greater flexibility and more subtle articulation. The cyclic aspect of organizational life acquired whole new dimensions, for in music there can be many cycles of different length and involving different instruments. They also made intriguinguse of rhythm and tempo -- partly as a way of dealing with urgency and the need for an appropriately timed response.
But perhaps of most interest to us are the insights they gained from musical notation and the harmonic relationship between different chords and instrumental qualities. They took the typically politicized factional spectrum around any issue in our time (which undermines any appropriate response) and effectively coded the spectral elements into musical notation. Interventions in any discussion were thus comprehended within a musical framework, whether as isolated notes or chords, but above all in terms of their relationship to the emerging theme. The art of debate thus became one of contributing to the emergence of better music -- recognizing the role and limitations of the particular contribution one could make. The characteristic intervention of our time -- the frequent repetition of a single note, louder than those preceding it -- was an obvious musical disaster (although see below). In this context, 'note taking' acquired a whole new meaning in recording the proceedings of the gathering.
We would however be completely misunderstanding their achievement if it were taken to be a simplistic exploration of harmonies. Their society, like ours, was constantly challenged by deep divisions of perspective. But, whereas we resolve these in the organizational equivalent of a gladiatorial arena, they reinterpreted such dissonance in musical terms. To our ears the music they played would at different times have such qualities as: gothic immensity; the challenging intensity and immediacy of hard rock; the supportive, solidarity of folk tunes; the intellectual intricacies of computer generated music; as well as many others. They had a tool to work effectively with differences and to use those differences to enhance the dimensions of their policies.
The written and spoken word during the policy-making process has lost those attributes of language which focus our aspirations and inspire us to collective action. There is a divorce between the 'rousing speech' of a leader and the articulation of the policy by men in grey suits -- a divorce concealed by the use of public relations consultants to sooth our concern. We are governed through turgid prose embodied in the bureaucratic procedures we love to hate.
In that far time their deliberations and conclusions depended heavily on insights into poetic form. They rediscovered the merits of poetry as 'the other way of using language'. It should not be forgotten that poetry was first used in rituals to regulate the life of a community and ensure a good harvest, only later to become an important means of giving form to the life of the spirit. It should quickly be emphasized that it was the discipline of the poetic form through which they worked, not some convoluted effort to translate policy conclusions into a poetic 'press communiqué' for public consumption.
Is there even the faintest recognition in our times of the need to make use of poetic disciplines in response to the challenges we face ? Surprisingly there is. The recognition comes from those who recognize the limitations of scientific disciplines in dealing with the complexity of the problematique -- and specifically with the limitations of the human mind, or any particular language, in comprehending and encompassing the subtle dimensions amongst which a dynamic balance needs to be maintained. For example, thebiologist Gregory Bateson, in explaining why 'we are our own metaphor', pointed out to a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation that:
'One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we are not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity.' (**, p. 288-9)
Again space precludes no more than brief references to how the poetic form was used in the future. For example, where we make extensive use of point filled agendas, charters and declarations to express and order our policies, they recognized the inappropriateness of these forms to the subtleties of what they were called upon to govern. To our times it would appear as though they had simply expressed their agendas as poems, of which declarations and charters were more complex elaborations. This perception would be to misunderstand their achievement. For the poetic form allowed them to interrelate insights and challenges which we only link mechanically or as 'budget items'. Their use of such forms immediately engaged the attention -- people were not only 'moved' by them, but the articulation focussed understanding of how 'being moved' could be translated into implementation and what complex environmental relationships they needed to be sensitive to during that process.
Such approaches appear totally impractical to us, locked as we are into our schizophrenically dissociated roles. For us a poem is the work of an individual (often marginalized) making few concessions to the collective -- it is a voice crying in the wilderness. For them their highest achievements were poems designed by groups (of inspired individuals) representing the aspirations of the collective --faced with its own shadow. We can only laugh at such possibilities because we perceive in it various echoes of totalitarian art (just as we would question the collective function of martial music). Group creativity is the rare exception in the arts -- and then only in pop music, experimental theatre, and group murals, none of which are held to be of great long-term value. But from their perspective our charters and declarations could only be understood as aesthetic abominations whose form, distorted the spirit of collective action and ensured the reinforcement of precisely those problems which we deplore. For them, ironically, such forms were conceptual totalitarianism par excellence.
It would be a mistake to believe that policy-makers in our day are blind to any distinctions of colour. On the contrary their task is bedevilled by problems of colour, especially at the national level. For policy-making is highly politicized and the factions are usally strongly associated with a particular colour: from the socialist reds, to the conservative blues, with of course the ecologist greens. Some distinguish fascist blacks and technocratic yellows. And there are even efforts to distinguish shadings: pink to dark red, light to dark green, etc. Such use of colours goes back to early military needs to be able to identify soldiers on a battlefield and rally them around a distinctive banner to be loyally defended 'to the last'.
In that time to come, the objective of policy had shifted from explicitattempts to ensure that any particular colour triumphed to the suppression and exclusion of all others. The significant contributions and dramatic weaknesses of each such approach had become only too apparent. Treating each policy as a sort of action vector, they were able to represent the range of possible action vectors through a complex classification of the complete range of several thousand colours distinguishable to the human eye. One policy-making tool they then used was the art of combining colours from this 'palette' into a meaningful painting, whether in two or three dimensions (or more, by cycling through pattern sequences). Some representations also took the form of 'light sculptures'. Others bore more resemblance to tapestries.
Discussion about policy thus shifted from the implicit objective of maximizing blue or green, to the challenge of how to combine many such colours on a complex surface. In this light our efforts at global policy-making were primitive in the extreme, without any sense of form, diversity or balance. It makes clear how little respect technocratic policy-makers now have for the complex issues of balance and appeal to which aesthetics devotes so much attention. They were able to use colours to encode the policy dimensions which needed to be held in balance in a complex social ecology. A credible policy was therefore designed and represented by some form of painting with a strong aesthetic appeal -- with the colours and shapes indicative of details necessary to the pattern of the whole. Indeed, their technology permitted such paintings (on computer-enhanced screens) to be used as 'control panels' through which the health of a society could be assessed by all. The elements of the painting became indicators (so by-passing the statistical difficulties of the innumerate). Such pictures were truly worth a million words.
We can speculate on how they would represent to us on some such painting the appropriate policy mix to respond to the challenges of 'sustainable development' in the 1990s. Obviously there would be some green, but how much of each shade. How would it be related to the conservative blue ? And what of the shades of red ? And how would the colours be disposed and interwoven ? What would justify the exclusion of any particular range of colours ? To respond to concerns at both global and local level, the painting would have to be very large indeed -- and beyond our current imaginings. But this would allow many policy variants at the detailed level, where different constituencies experimented with different policy combinations. The merit would lie in the ability to discuss the aesthetics of the painting as a whole -- would the detail form a meaningful global pattern ?
There is a true story of the visit of the President of one country to another not so long ago. Each had his principal public speech carefully crafted by a speechwriter to appropriately stress the policy issues in question from his position. They delivered their speeches to each other before a large audience and all were content. Unknowingly they had used the services of the same speechwriter.
There are many tales of conference conclusions having been prepared, before the gathering, in 'draft' form for approval on the occasion. Together with the above tale, this suggests that all policy gatherings are to some extent scripted, possibly during the course of preliminary meetings. A 'dry run' is common for critical business meetings. Academic meetings may be almost totally scripted, given that papers may have to be submitted months in advance to determine whether they can be accepted in the programme and'read' at the meeting. Whatever the degree of pre-scripting, some time is usually given for 'free discussion' or 'questions from the floor' -- this may also be scripted by the use of appropriate 'plants'.
In that future era they approached these matters as dramatic opportunities. A policy gathering was also designed and assessed by the criteria of the dramatic arts. As such this view of a gathering is not too strange to us. We talk of the 'main players' and are sensitive to 'dramatic moments'. The media are especially sensitive to such aspects, to the point of placing pressure on organizers to structure the event so that there are such moments. Events are 'staged' because of the media opportunities they offer. The key speakers prepare themsleves accordingly -- even to the point of being appropriately dressed, if not made-up and bewigged.
But our efforts in this direction make rather uninteresting drama, except for the participants. In the future the challenge was to ensure that the different policy factions were represented by a cast of characters capable of giving adequate dramatic emphasis to the complex issues that needed to be aired, interrelated and resolved. Even today the organizers of conferences are sensitive to the question of 'casting' -- who can most appropriately represent a particular perspective. But our descendants made this into a high art. Thus if some hard decision had to be made, the tragic dimensions were appropriately drawn out so that all were aware of what opportunities had to be sacrificed and the suffering that would cause. If there were ridiculous inconsistencies under discussion, their potential as comedy was fully explored (as it is today, outside the gathering, by cartoonists and political comedians).
But the special merit of their dramatic approach was that they had skilled techniques for blending scripting and improvisation. In contrast with our programmed gatherings, the outcome was not necessarily predetermined. The inherent logic of the drama as it unfolded through the unscripted interventions of the participants could move the drama to some unsuspected conclusion. In our time we understand this best in psychodrama and indeed their gatherings were to a high degree sophisticated psychodramas in which participants took the role of factions or constituencies rather than personalities.
The dramatic dimension to their gatherings provided ways of giving form to otherwise 'bloodless' debates in which policy implications could take only a purely abstract form. Faced with a complex of challenges and opportunities (which could only be represented on an essentially incomprehensible complex mathematical 'surface'), the drama articulated the tensions between values such as joy and despair associated with different policy dimensions, however the gathering finally resolved them. 'Points' were made through dramatic moments (as at the origin of the phrase, 'to make a point', in 18th century theatre). In our day policy-makers do not weep at the suffering caused by the decisions they may be forced to make. In that era, such dramatizations provided every justification for weeping when appropriate. The emotional implications of policies were thus fully explored during the policy-making process.
In the closing years of the 20th century much is made of the of the increasing proportion of young people in the world, despite the reverse situation in western countries. Much is also made of rising levels of functional illiteracy -- even in western countries. And it is clear that the young in general have relatively little interest in theorganization of society that is being passed thrust on them by their elders. Although they are deeply concerned by some of the issues, it is fair to say that a high proportion of young people have their core aspirations articulated through music and its embodiment in dance. In a world of many languages, it is one of the few that is shared worldwide.
One of the shocking features of our era, to those of the future, was that those involved in policy-making had lost the art of dancing. Formal dances, where they are held, have atrophied into a formal shuffle of little significance. Disco dancing on the occasion of any gathering is provided soley as a means of relaxing and cultivating relationships. Complex dances from our cultural heritage are executed as entertainment with little insight into their significance.
Our descendants developed the use of dance during such gatherings into a way of exploring the pattern of dualities by which our policy debates are variously polarized beyond any logical reconciliation. Such dualities and factional differences could be encoded in music as described earlier. But dance offered the possibility of acting out those tensions so that they acquired a felt reality -- and the sequence of the dance allowed particular polarities to be transcended in the pattern of the dance. Such dances bore some resemblance to ceremonial dances, and masked dances, of earlier times and cultures. They also borrowed heavily from insights into self-organizing systems. Many formal patterns existed, but the dance itself, through choices made by participants, might stabilize temporarily in one, before switching into another, or through a cycle of patterns.
Dances of this kind allowed participants to explore the boundary between their personal preferences, those of others, and the organization of the whole. They offered insights into patterns of organization in which sacrifices made to others under certain conditions, could be compensated by benefits under other conditions. They illustrated the art of 'winning' and 'losing'. People were able to feel out where they could take initiative, leading some part of the dance, and where they could more appropriately respond to the initiatives of others.
Of most importance, such dances gave felt reality to complex patterns which could be used to interweave polarizing tendencies in social organization. They provided a means of understanding the 'temporal logic' of combining opposing (factional) policies as phases in policy cycles -- themselves interwoven in more complex patterns (reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic patterns). In effect, the whirl of the dance kept opposing elements within the larger pattern. This creative use of time was their key to the use of more appropriate and sustainable styles of organization. We can hear a faint echo of this insight in the peasant farmer's traditional use of crop rotation to sustain the productivity of his fields and in our current approaches to traffic circulation.
Vast sums are invested these days in the design and construction of prestigious conference centres, as one of the principal environments in which policy is articulated and approved. Although much is made of the advanced 'communications technology' installed there, no attention is paid to the fact that none of it is designed to facilitate unmediated communication between participants. Such centres are fundamentally totalitarian in concept. All is controlled and articulated from the top and feedback from thefloor is severely controlled or impossible. In many cases this extends to the pattern of seating -- unmovably bolted to the floor for maximum exposure to messages from the podium. Not only does this mirror our social organization, it is also reflects the way in which meaning is communicated in such policy environments. It reinforces the patterns by which we tend to organize knowledge and insight --and how we subsequently impose them on others.
In the time to come, the principles of architecture were basic to the organization of policy insights and their implementation. The point here is not the way in which such principles were used in the physical design of conference environments, rather it is the way they informed the conceptual organization -- however that might reflect on the physical layout and communications technology.
One of their insights was that in conceptual terms gatherings had to be 'constructed'. A meaningful policy conference was one which provided appropriate conceptual spaces for different purposes --and ensured communication between them. In part the task of the conference was to build anew, on each occasion, such a pattern of spaces. To some degree this already happens in our time through the design of the programme. They made 'conference architecture' into an art form at the conceptual level. But the conference had to be designed and built by the participants -- the viability of the resulting 'building' was a measure of their success in policy design.
This is not place to discuss their approach to the 'foundations' or to many other features of the conceptual construct. Most striking perhaps was their use of space. Each faction found it reasonably easy to design a space for itself and its own 'wares' -- somewhat as do major exhibitors in designing their stands at an exhibition associated with a conference. The first real challenge was to be able to design with others a conceptual context in which participants with similar priorities and values could successfully explore their relationships. In this phase, corresponding to the meeting of sub-plenary groups, the design views of participants were constrained and inspired by their immediate peers. Then followed the challenge of relating that space to those of other groups with other priorities, so that participants could move from space to space. At this design stage, each group had to take into account requirements of other groups -- compromises had to be made.
The most challenging phase was the construction of the collective conceptual space in which all viewpoints were interrelated, providing integrity to the whole, namely the equivalent of a plenary conference room. A central architectural insight lay in the means of constructing an arch -- or a series of arches which could be roofed over to protect the space. In effect, even for the smaller spaces, participants were often obliged to retrace the history of architectural principles and techniques. The challenge was to use opposing conceptual elements as columns and to use various ways of bridging between them to create the desired space -- whatever scaffolding was temporarily acquired to install keystones or their equivalent. For the smaller spaces this tended to call upon principles from the very early history of architecture. To create a space for all views -- the conference in plenary form -- required a much more sophisticated understanding because of the wide expanse that had to be covered with minimum intervening supports.
Their achievement was to use opposition between policy perspectives as 'compression elements' and to use mutually supportive perspectives as 'tension elements'. Their skill, inspired by physical buildings, lay in finding ways of using the dynamic interplaybetween two types of element to create structures which would be impossible with either of them alone. They effectively used the elements of a duality so that the 2-dimensional stresses between them -- which normally render any conceptual construction impossible -- could only be resolved by engendering a space in 3-dimensions. In some cases this resulted in 'gothic' structures --'cathedrals of the mind' -- in others it resulted in what we might understand through Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity structures (basic to his geodesic domes).
Speculation about approaches to problems in the distant future is most useful when it sharpens our understanding of new possibilities in the present. Our difficulty today is that few problems are insoluble, rather most of the solutions are themselves perceived as problems. Everyone's solutions -- when implemented -- are someone else's problems. So the test of a new approach is not whether it can be used to 'solve' a problem like the ozone layer, famine, drug abuse, etc. For any such solutions result in the emergence into prominence of new problems. The total amount of problem 'stuff' seems to remain constant. It just gets shifted around under new labels (a bit like shifting a heap of junk around in a yard). Success is claimed, through upbeat reporting, at the elimination of a problem in one domain, only by carefully avoiding recognition of its displacement into some other form or jurisdiction. The greens have taught us that there is no 'sink' into which we can dump all our junk -- the same seems to go for problems in general. But we continue to be seduced by a political equivalent to the traditional carnival 'shell game'. Effective action on problems continually eludes us -- its always associated with some other opportunity we have been unable to take.
One difficulty seems to be that we are trapped by habitual conceptual and procedural approaches to problems -- and their reflection in institutions and programmes. It suits most of us to point a finger at seemingly isolated problems like the ozone layer because our degree of accountability for them is limited. Its a bit like the Peter Principle in the promotional career of individuals -- problems end up getting most clearly defined at the level just beyond that in which we feel responsible for doing much about them. And when it comes to allocating resources to solve problems, no matter how severe, the process is most characterized by cynical tradeoffs for the short-term advantage of constituencies already privileged -- whatever media packaging is offered to make such solutions appear desirable.
What we are looking for is a way of working with large complexes of problems, perceptions and organizational networks that would provide a more fruitful context for the healthy features of political horsetrading. But to be of any value it also needs to rechannel and refocus what currently manifests in institutional operations as mutual accusation, suspicion, deception, manipulation, alienation, corruption, subversion and sabotage -- dynamics seldom discussed by enthusiastic problem solvers surprised at the ways in which their efforts get undermined in the real world. Whilst much may be accomplished in the long-term by exploring processes through which people can 'come to know each other', 'reach consensus on values', 'love one another', and 'identify with humanity as a whole' or with Gaia, it is useful to question whether these 'positive' initiatives do not effectively serve as a rather beautiful avoidance mechanism -- at least in their present form.
An alternative approach could make extensive use of aestheticinsights into the discipline of harmony and into the role of dissonance in enriching that harmony, especially as articulated in music. Such an approach would recognize the place of easy harmonies, their limitations, and the role of more complex harmonies brought out by effective response to more challenging discords. But note that the 'discords' are not the nasty problems, but rather other groups opposing the 'harmonious' way favoured by my group in solving a problem -- our policy 'theme song' to whose irritating limitations we are totally insensitive. Until we can work within contexts allowing each participating group to be recognized as part of the problem, we cannot collectively determine the nature of the solution that would be appropriate or sustainable.
In any gathering the aim would be to use aesthetic devices (music, colour, drama, etc) to register the different perspectives represented (and their associated dyanamics), to provide a conceptual scaffolding to hold their relationships as they developed during the event, and to suggest directions through which richer harmonies could be explored. In contrast with the present preoccupation with a majority or consensus vote, the outcome would be expressed by a pattern or tapestry of views. Superficial or token unity would be replaced by a more complex, and more dynamic, set of relationships, reflecting the reality of the deepfelt differences between those represented within it -- as well as being both comprehensible and challenging to those in the outside world investing hope in the outcome of such gatherings.
The acid test would be the manner in which such dynamic patterns were reflected in the design of programmes, budgets, institutions and information systems. The key feature here would be the way in which policies ensured that opposing perspectives were brought into play at appropriate times to correct for programmatic weaknesses resulting from the excesses of any one insight or set of priorities. It is through a more disciplined use of time that it becomes possible to overcome the apparent impracticality of ensuring that a configuration of non-consensual insights guides policies of requisite variety. In this light budgetary cycles at present can only be perceived as crude and clumsy, completely failing to take advantage of the flexibility and responsiveness that current computer software techniques could permit (perhaps best seen in the rapid reallocation of resources through worldwide exchange and money market operations, despite their weaknesses). However it is the aesthetic insights that are needed to give form to appropriate patterns of complementarity.
And is any of this really possible in the immediate future ? The tragedy is that we are already using the software techniques and technology needed -- but not in response to the dilemma of our time. Similarly many of the aesthetic, scientific and policy disciplines, whose insights would be beneficial, are locked into expediently self-serving activities rendering them insensitive to external constraints. Those with a mandate to fund exploration of social innovations avoid criticism by accepting advice resulting in more of the same.
So yes it is possible, but it is not probable. We are stuck in a vicious circle such that gatherings of the wise, for the purpose of improving such gatherings, are rendered ineffective by the processes which they aspire to rechannel -- disguising their collective impotence under expressions of appreciation at their achievements, however minimal. We are very much our own metaphor.
For those locked into bureaucratic procedures, academic or artistic traditions, or into the prevailing conventions of policy-making, that future will appear fantastic indeed. But at a time when actors and playwrights become presidents, when policy is articulated through carefully staged photo opportunities, when major policies are communicated and discussed through their metaphoric wrappings, and when policy successes at the global level seem few and far between, then more open-ended approaches merit exploration.
Many references could have been supplied to give weight to points made and to possibilities alluded to. But this is not the place to do so. Those to whom the arguments speak will have their own references, and it is unlikely that references would persuade others to whom the perspective is unmeaningful anyway.
Underlying this paper is a concern for the unexplored possibilities of metaphor in guiding innovative approaches to governance and the design of structures for sustainable development. Such uses of metaphor have formed the subject of a series of papers which developed themes first explored in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1986). This material will appear in the 1990 edition of that volume with an appropriate bibliography.
Finally it is a nice challenge to ask ourselves why the possibilities mentioned above could not be explored now rather than in the year 2490 -- if only for smaller groups and communities. The first step would require a clear distinction between such initiatives and those characterized by enthusiastic attempts to add on to a conference yet another performance of 'The Ode to Joy' or to 'celebrate' once again (while the world is literally burning). What would it take to determine what might be feasible ? To represent Beauty, it would be necessary to have those with artistic skills of course -- but it would be vital that they not be locked into the need for a platform for themselves and their own work, rather than for collective concerns. To represent the Beast, much could be accomplished with accountants, lawyers and those from the organizational development world, in addition to those with policy skills -- but it would be vital that they not be locked into a narrow conception of their role. When they gather together it would be vital to recognize that the personal needs of facilitators, with their favourite 'processes', are also part of the problem.
We need to disillusion ourselves that the task just involves bringing appropriately skilled people together -- as in so many delightful gatherings and task forces of little consequence. It calls for long-term commitment by many -- perhaps equivalent to the Apollo programme -- in order to escape from the conceptual gravity well in which we are stuck.
Our tragedy is that innovation tends to be forced upon us, and justified, by disaster. It will probably take a major disaster to our planet before we can find ways to surmount the conceptual greed which drives us to advance our own views (signed and copyrighted) at all costs -- whether in the service of Beauty or of the Beast. But there will come a time when a match-making gathering will explore the possibility of their marriage -- and the form it might take.
Gregory Bateson. Quoted in: Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor (report of a conference). Knopf, 1972
The references on the policy-related use of metaphor in the papers by Judge (below) are presented in a bibliography, with some of that material, in the 1991 edition of the Encyclopeda of World Problems and Human Potential (below).
Union of International Associations:
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